Rethinking the rise of the West: Global Commodities


Konstantin Georgidis, Canterbury School, Ft. Myers, Florida


Class Activities: Comparing and Contrasting Points of View
Lesson Plan(PDF)

China and Europe, 1500-2000 and Beyond: What is "Modern"?

Teachers’ Guide with Study Questions: China and Europe, 1500-2000


Rethinking the rise of the West: The Great Divergence Debate

Rethinking the rise of the West: Global Commodities

Standards of Modernity – China and Europe

Parallels in England and the Yangzi Basin of China in the 1800s



The period 1500-1800 is frequently represented as an era of increasing European global domination. Attention to the conquest of the Americas, the Enlightenment, the Atlantic slave trade, and expansion into Asia and Africa typically reinforce this interpretation. However, recent analyses of this period do not place Europeans at the center of world affairs: they emphasize the importance of large, centralized states in China, West Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and India. Historians now claim that Europeans served not as dominators, but as intermediaries for commercial goods — including silver, slaves, and manufactured goods — between these various regions. Indeed, they argue that Europeans did not dominate global trade and politics until about 1800.

Focus Questions

  1. What economic, technological, demographic and ecological forces created the first truly global network of trade in the 16th century?
  2. How can historians reconstruct the past by tracing the exchange of particular commodities (such as silver)?

Grades and Time Required

Grades: 10-12 Time: Three periods or 150 minutes.


Instructional Objectives

  1. Identify the reasons for the development of a network of global commodities in the 16th century.
  2. Identify, describe and critically assess the linkages of international trade that characterized the process of globalization that resulted from the development of a network of trade in silver in the Pacific Ocean basin.
  3. Determine the effects of the establishment and the functioning of this trade on the regions which participated in it and, especially China.
  4. Assess China’s importance for the world economy
  5. Assess claims in current historiography of China’s modernity and the rejection of a Eurocentric world history.